Making Your Board a Strategic Asset

Jean Pousson, our Managing Director, shares his insights as to what makes a good/great Director

No one teaches you to be a Director. For many it seems like a natural progression from successful senior management positions and into the Boardroom. It is also fair to say that many Directors are both professionally and emotionally unprepared for their first appointment.

There are a number of frameworks that provide for Director assessment and in our work, we have often been asked to carry out such assessments, in addition to the usual Board Effectiveness Reviews. Besides the obvious technical capabilities and skills that are de rigeur, (eg numeracy!), we would like to add a few below that perhaps do not get sufficient airtime in typical frameworks. I guess we could call this “what they don’t teach you in Business Schools”. Humility. No matter how experienced, we do not, (and cannot), know everything, even in our fields of expertise. It is simply not possible. A good Director knows this and should be sufficiently humble to admit that expert assistance may be required. Cyber, AI, the demands of Generation Y, handling a crisis, a first acquisition, are a few that come to mind. Bravado and showboating are not exactly badges of honour. The recent pandemic has highlighted how many barriers, that we thought were insurmountable, had been overhyped for years. It is hoped that Boards and Directors do not simply go back to the way it was, but rather seek to learn from the last two years to reflect on the lessons learnt and what they have got wrong.

Learning. We have all heard the sentence, “you learn something new every day”. As Directors and Boards, we should constantly the question, “what have I/we learnt today?” A Board that ignores this very simple principle will find itself in the slow lane very quickly, as nimbler and smarter competitors pass by. Development means just that, and Directors do need to take responsibility for their continued learning.

The illusion of knowledge. Experience is great as long as the future resembles the past. We have been saying this for years and this piece of advice is timeproof. The knowledge that we have accumulated over the years may not be as relevant today as it was then. In some cases it may be totally irrelevant if not downright dangerous. We need to dump, we need to reset, we need to unlearn, and we need to learn from rather unorthodox sources. I find my children and my grandchildren to be an amazing source of inspiration and knowledge, to see how they see the world, how they date, (for those that can), how they spend money, etc.. We have so much to learn from the next generation. And please do not ever say, “when I was your age!”. This is a futile preface.

Time. Bill Gates once asked the late Peter Drucker, where did he find the time to write so many good books. “I make time”, replied Drucker. From that day, Gates regularly makes time to go away by himself, away from the usual distractions of life and business to simply think and read. Try it.

Ethics and integrity. Honesty is always the best policy. The right way is always the easiest. We could go on forever here, but we would like to highlight just one important aspect. Transgressions on the little things, eg turning a blind eye to what could be considered minor, often leads to gradual acceptance of turning a blind eye to bigger things. It is like fidelity in a relationship. You cannot be ‘a little’ unfaithful. You are unfaithful or you are not, (Bill Clinton may disagree). So it is therefore crucial to stamp out bad and corrosive behaviour and practices very quickly.

Be like Lola. Let me explain. Lola is my youngest grandchild, (7), and I was teaching her recently to play ‘Scramble’. (Scabble to you and I.) She destroyed the rules of the game in thirty seconds by questioning every such rule:

• Why does my word have to touch another?
• Why can’t I swap letters with you?
• Why can’t I put my tile on top of another?
• And there were more!

So be like Lola. Question, query, and interrogate.7

Curiosity is an essential capability for a Director, (specially for a non-executive Director). We have just been afflicted by this orgy of self-congratulation and attention seeking, which is also known as The Oscar Ceremony in Los Angeles. Why is it called The Oscars? Look it up! That’s my point. A Director, (like Lola), should always be curious and be prepared to at least challenge the status quo and not accept blindly what is presented.

 

“It is not what you’ve got but what you give”
This was a tattoo I saw on a person at a beach in Florida.
We do indeed learn from unorthodox sources.